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Straight-Up Oldstyle Corruption and Racism: Why the Murder Rate in Baltimore is so High (An Essay)


(this piece was originally drafted on April 26, 2019 and contributed to my overwhelming sense of helplessness and depression at the current state of affairs– even the epithet “Deranged Donald” wasn’t funny enough to lift my spirits)

There was recently an FBI raid on a house in Baltimore with a difference: the subject wasn’t going anywhere.

The mayor of Baltimore has been on sick leave since April 1, and an acting mayor is acting in her place.  She reportedly has pneumonia, which carries a significant mortality risk at her age (she is 69 according to Google, whose reality we will share for the duration of this post)– in fact, pneumonia was once known as the “old person’s friend” in view of its high mortality rate among the elderly.  Her lawyer says he visited with her and her doctor at her house at the time the FBI came (perhaps they didn’t need to enter with guns drawn) (despite a news story that she had “skipped town”) and that he will have a statement from her when she is “lucid.”

It seems that perhaps fifteen years ago, Ms. Pugh conceived of an idea: a trio of children’s books that tout self-improvement, standards such as plenty of outdoor exercise, eat all your vegetables both green and red, obey all street signs, et al.  She self-published these books, an innovation which has either revolutionized the publishing business or further debased it, depending on your point of view.

At the time, she was a state senator.  In her campaign for mayor (she apparently was elected on the Democratic ticket in 2016) she used these books as well as her ethnicity (an apparently recent photo shows an elderly, slightly built black woman with a pale complexion) and her experience in the State Senate to do very well at the polls.  Since her election, she apparently sold some books to the health nonprofit Kaiser Permanente for $114,000; Kaiser later negotiated a $48 million contract with the city and she forgot to recuse herself from the negotiations.  All told, she has grossed more than a million for these books (on which she says she gets a $1 profit each) but a large number of books are missing and an independent book critic says her expenses for self-publishing the book appear to be as inflated as her self-assessed literary talent.

I have a hard time imagining how she justified this to herself.  Obviously, she’s selling books to a powerful company with deep pockets that has business before her as the mayor… maybe she thought no one would notice.  More likely, she compartmentalized it so that she didn’t have to think about it or what would happen if it became public knowledge.  You’ve got to have a good reason to be irrational.

She has so far resisted calls from the City Council and the governor to resign, although she has stepped down from her position on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.  According to her lawyer, she is too ill to make the decision to resign.  I would have to agree with her, and I’m sure her doctor agrees.  At the moment, she’s at home.

This is endemic corruption in a town known for its corruption and brutality.  In 2010, a previous mayor was forced to resign after being convicted of embezzlement and theft.  The city has had five police chiefs in five years.  No wonder the Baltimore city police can shoot young black men with impunity, or tackle them, break their necks, not noticed that they are paralyzed, and leave them to suffocate in the back of a police vehicle (that really happened in one documented instance to a man named Freddie Gray a few years ago.)

Thus, with the reflexes of a long-abused dog although as human as you or me, the young black men of Baltimore shoot each other or beat their girlfriends or abuse their mothers.  It is the cruelty from the top that drives the cruelty below; at the very tip of the spear sits Deranged Donald (beats Don the Con, which was my favorite) who seems to make cruelty the point of each and every one of his new policies, from declaring that “Our Country’s Full, Go Home” to terminating humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Authority to withdrawing all American troops from Syria so that the Kurds could be betrayed to the Turks.

(photo courtesy of

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